A candidate for Milton’s Planning Board accused the incumbent of abusing his position to block development near his home, and is offering an email as proof.
The allegations were made by Todd Hamilton, whose application for an open space development near Hillside Street was denied by the Planning Board last fall.
Last month, Hamilton provided the town planner with copies of the Whiteside email from board member Alexander Whiteside. The email, sent to Hamilton's attorney, suggested steps that could lead to approval of the application.
Whiteside had recused himself from the discussion of the application, which involved a property near his own, and had sent the email without the knowledge of his board or Town Planner William Clark.
In an interview Friday, Clark criticized the email, saying, “Once you recuse yourself, you shouldn’t say anything, and he says everything.”
Whiteside said he was simply trying to suggest an arrangement that would satisfy Hamilton and the neighbors, who opposed the development.
He added that he suspects the email was released for political reasons as a result of the campaign between himself and Hamilton in the April 30 town election.
“Someone thinks [the email] reflects badly on me; I don’t think that it does,” Whiteside said in an interview.
The dispute began in March 2012, when Hamilton, a Milton developer, applied for an open space development permit to build three single-family homes on a 15-acre lot near Hillside Street on behalf of the landowner, John Fandrey.
Whiteside, who lives at 79 Hillside St., chaired the Planning Board discussions of the application from April until August, when he recused himself, Clark said.
The application failed in a 2-to-2 vote last October, because of the proposed 1,800-foot driveway the new houses would share with three existing homes. Four "yes" votes were required.
“A driveway of this length, serving this many homes, is not in keeping with the rural residential character of the neighborhood,” read the decision, which was filed on Jan. 15.
The decision said the width and lack of lighting would make the driveway unsafe. But Clark said Friday that he believed this reason was insufficient for a denial.
On Jan. 17, Whiteside sent the email to Hamilton’s lawyer, Marion McEttrick, which she passed on to Hamilton.
In the email, Whiteside suggested that the application might be approved if the neighbors approved of it, and he recommended that the landowner sell part of the property to two of the neighbors and “deem agreeable” potential zoning violations at a third neighbor’s property.
“Such good-will gestures by the developer would, in my view, be worth trying,” Whiteside wrote in the email.
Whiteside further said that if the proposed development still didn’t have enough support, he could obtain an appraisal showing the project would “have no financial effect on [Whiteside’s] property,” allowing him to participate in a new application.
He added that he would vote on the basis of the evidence at the hearing and would not simply vote "yes."
“Basically what he is saying is let the abutters be a director of your own land,” Hamilton said on Friday. “He basically said they are driving the ship.”
Hamilton added he felt Whiteside was trying to force some of the property to be sold off, in order to get a favorable vote from the Planning Board.
According to Hamilton, Whiteside wanted to keep new development out of his neighborhood, and contacted Hamilton only because he was worried that a larger development would be built.
Hamilton also accused Whiteside of trying to work out a deal in secret.
“I think it’s very important for taxpayers to know how [Whiteside] operates behind the scenes and this is how he does it,” Hamilton said Friday. “It is unfair to taxpayers and voters and unfair to the other [Planning Board] members he is doing this and they don’t even know about it.”
In response, Whiteside said he sent the email to head off a potential lawsuit from Hamilton and to appease the neighbors, who were staunchly opposed to the project, he said.
“I think it was a reasonable outline of the way the case could be settled; [McEttrick] took it to Mr. Hamilton, and he said ‘no,’” Whiteside said.
The effort didn’t avert a lawsuit, however; Hamilton sued the town on Feb. 4.
Whiteside added that he was not negotiating on behalf of the neighbors named in the email, and had not spoken to them prior to sending it.
“Suggesting a settlement happens all the time; why can’t someone suggest a settlement?” Whiteside said. “I don’t see where the conflict is.”
Hamilton said he planned to pass the email on to the state ethics board and the state attorney general.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.